According to Australian millionaire Tim Gurner, the reason I haven’t bought a house is because I eat too many avocados. Granted, I enjoy me a good avocado. They’re delicious and nutritious, however I highly doubt I’ve consumed 116,000 of them. You see, 116,000 avocados is worth the same amount as my student debt. I won’t disclose the exact amount of my debt here, mostly because when I see it in written form I need a tequila shot with a chaser of Pepto-Bismal, and it’s just too early for that. I’m speaking of course of the Pepto-Bismal. I will say though, that the average price of an avocado in the U.S.A is $1.25. So if you’re up for some basic algebra you can most likely figure out the approximate number. It’s important to keep in mind that this debt was solely related to my Master’s Degree. It doesn’t factor in my Bachelor’s Degree, or any of the three professional certifications I hold. About four years ago, as I was getting ready to graduate with my M.S. in Justice, Law & Society, I contacted the financial aid office to begin figuring out how I was going to pay this off. I was told I would have two monthly payments of roughly $700.00 per month. So fuck avocados, I’d be lucky to afford a suitcase to keep my shit in while I slept on the steps of my alma mater. I figured a place to lay my head was the least they owed me.
Now, before you go thinking that I’m Princess Affluenza living in the kingdom of Spendalotia, let me clarify some things. I did not take Debtzilla on because I wanted to live in a fancy townhouse in D.C. where I could park my Tesla and go to brunch every Sunday. I rented a one bedroom apartment on the southeast side of D.C., where the neighborhood was so bad I literally came out of my complex one day to find ballistics lasers set up in the parking lot. You know, because there had been a shooting. I drove a Toyota Corolla (or Corollin’ as I like to call it, because damn those cars last forever), and I’m not making this up, owned a whopping TWO pairs of shoes. One of which my sister once told me, looked like I was wearing a couple of mylar balloons on my feat, but whatever I rocked those bitches. The point is, my lifestyle could only be described as sparse-chic. The vast majority of my student loans went directly to tuition and rent. I even worked part-time to cover the rest of my living expenses. Things like ramen noodles and single ply toilet paper. So no, I didn’t dig myself into this much debt to live the good life, I took it on because I thought my country and I had a contract.
The concept of the social contract is an implicit agreement between members of a society to cooperate for social benefits. America’s is deeply ingrained and the consideration is as follows; You work hard and follow the rules and in return you’ll be equivalently rewarded. From the Great Depression until about 1980, both parties held up their ends of the bargain. The cost of living increased, but so did the average wage. Unions were strong and allowed for people to land jobs making good money and move into the middle-class even without advanced education. If you chose to pursue a degree, it was reasonably affordable to the extent that most didn’t need loans to cover it, and you were almost guaranteed to find a job and earn a good salary upon graduation. In short, America was the shit. Fast forward a couple of decades and you basically have to take the word “the” out of that last sentence (and change “was” to “is” in order to be grammatically correct, but fuck it you get the point).
You see, I’ve held up my end of the contract. I went to college. TWICE. When I thought I needed something to make me more appealing to the current job market I got myself a project management certification, a paralegal certification and a scrum master certification. I’ve voted in every election since I turned 18, volunteered my time for charitable causes and the closest I ever came to getting in trouble was when I was 18 and left my high school campus three weeks before graduation to go out to lunch with friends. Side note… I got suspended for that. I mean, come the fuck on! 12 years without so much as my name on the board and you’re going to suspend me because I left for an hour to eat something besides 20 pounds of french fries slathered in nacho cheese? Still so bitter, but I digress. The point here is that America is in breach of our contract.
Now some might say, “Didn’t America hold up its end of the bargain when they granted you a student loan?” I would respond, no. It didn’t. Because if we’re going to live in a capitalist society, there will always be “haves” and “have nots”. To expand upon this further, America’s end of the bargain is “equivalent rewards”. There are no disclaimers or limitations on who can receive said rewards and the concept of “reward” itself implies a meritorious society. So if we’re going to kill unions and any avenue to wealth accrual outside of higher education, we have to allow the “have nots” and even the “have just not quite enoughs” the same opportunities as the “haves”. Without financial aid, it would be like 99% of the population jumping into a game of Monopoly where the other 1% already owns everything except for like, shitty Baltic Avenue. In short, without student loans, only the rich would receive higher educations, capitalism would collapse and nothing would be meritorious. So, again, contract breached.
But let’s back up to the situation we’re currently in now, because we do have financial aid, as we should, but America has still breached the contract. Here’s how.
This chart was published by Matthew Phillips of Freakonomics and clearly shows the skyrocketing cost of college tuition. It’s even outpacing the ever increasing cost of living. Both of which are rising, which is to be expected, and wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if it weren’t for the REAL problem. And this is where if we could afford lube, which we can’t because college costs so fucking much, we’d buy it, because we’re about to get fucked. Wages have been stagnate or falling for decades. And yes, workers are compensated through more than just wages, such as benefits, however according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, salary still accounts for 70% of a workers compensation. And, as the Pew Research Center put it, “For most U.S. workers, real wages — that is, after inflation is taken into account — have been flat or even falling for decades, regardless of whether the economy has been adding or subtracting jobs”. So there you have it. America just Dirty Sanchez’d us, or in other terms they’ve breached the contract. (Mom when you read this, DON’T google Dirty Sanchez. Take my word for it. Dirty Sanchez means they stuck their tongue out and blew raspberries).
And please don’t think Debtzilla is only coming to decimate my life. There are roughly 44 million borrowers, with an average debt of $37,172. The total amount of student debt in our country exceeds $1.3 TRILLION dollars and 7 million debtors are in default. I’m actually one of the luckier people in this scenario. I limited myself to federal loans, so I have the pay as you earn program available to me. Which, admittedly, has kept me from homelessness, but also does not take into account regional differences in the cost of living, which are significant and applicable since most jobs to be had are located in the most expensive areas to live. The poor schmucks who had to take private loans out do not have these programs available, nor can they refinance their debt. They can’t even say, “Fuck my credit, I’d rather rent for the rest of my life than be buried under Debt Mountain”, and discharge it by filing for bankruptcy. Debt Mountain being the newly suggested name for Mt. St. Helen, because when this shit blows it’s going to be bad. And it WILL blow. It’s just a matter of when. So if you have private student loans, not only did you just get a Dirty Sanchez, they added a complimentary Cleveland Steamer. (Mom, that’s when you touch your thumb to your nose and wiggle your fingers. DON’T google it, just take my word on that).
So yes, I entered into this contract of sound mind and free of duress. I was aware of the amount of debt I was taking on. But I did so under the long standing agreement that in return I would be given “equivalent rewards”. Now, I’m not whining. I make decent money. I still live in a one bedroom apartment, but it’s in a much nicer neighborhood. At least there haven’t been any shootings. But “decent money” isn’t the equivalent to what I’ve invested. I’ve spent eight years of my life working towards achieving an ever expanding list of letters behind my name. I’ve spent 15 years contributing to the economy and working full time. And yet, I am still debating whether contribution to a 401K will be more effective than camping out on the steps of the Capital Building with a sign that reads, “Please stop fucking me. This isn’t consensual”. Myself, and those like me, who have studied hard and worked harder, should never have to discuss with their mothers, whether aforementioned mothers, should retire at 65 or keep working in order to help contribute to an annuity which MIGHT let us one day in the distant future, pay off these loans. So until America once again decides to perform within the legal bounds of our agreed upon contract, it won’t matter if I have the letters HBIC after my name. Debtzilla will still be coming for me. (Mom, you CAN google HBIC. You’ll get a kick out of it).